Despite many House and Senate members harboring serious constitutional concerns with the controversial Count My Vote "compromise bill," it was passed by both houses on Wednesday and will go to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.
SB54s2, sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble (R-Provo), passed the House 49-20 and the Senate 21-7. Passage of the bill would signal essentially the end of the Count My Vote initiative, as members of which would stop obtaining the 102,000 signatures needed to get their measure on November's ballot which would do away with the caucus/convention system in favor of direct primaries.
All of Summit County's representatives and senators voted in favor of the bill: Sen. Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal), Sen. Allen Christensen (R-North Ogden), Rep. Kraig Powell (R-Heber City), Rep. Melvin Brown (R-Coalville) and Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City).
Bramble and other proponents of SB54s2 had said the bill is necessary to preserve the caucus/convention system while also allowing candidates to collect signatures to get on a party's primary ballot. Debate on the bill on the House floor was lengthy, beginning with Rep. Daniel McCay (R-Riverton) touting the bill's importance, citing James Madison's capacity for compromise.
"I learned, much like Madison, that when sides come together, you can get some of what you want and some of what you don't want," McCay said, adding that he hopes the bill increases voter participation.
Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) had reservations about the bill, which would require political parties to include three provisions to become a "qualified political party" and avoid direct primaries:
Allow an opportunity for delegates to vote absentee at the party convention, or have an alternate delegate process
Allow unaffiliated voters to cast votes in the party's primary election
Allow a candidate to get on a primary ballot by obtaining signatures
"I don't see it as both sides coming to a compromise," Ivory said. "The side at issue is the party, not some group from the public and not the State Legislature. The state may only interfere in the affairs of a party if there is a compelling state issue like civil rights, which there is not."
Rep. Kraig Powell (R-Heber City) said he understands the argument that a political party is private and that the state cannot meddle in its affairs, but stressed that a party's inclusion on a public ballot gives the Legislature authorization to regulate a party.
"[This bill] is not only legally supportable but, politically, it's absolutely crucial. It's the thing that voters of this state are asking for and they have the right to do so," Powell said.
Rep. Merrill Nelson (R-Grantsville) said that the concerns of citizens supporting the caucus/convention system and those supporting direct primaries are equally valid and that SB54s2 would broaden Count My Vote by encouraging the participation of unaffiliated voters, of which there are roughly 665,000.
Rep. John Mathis (R-Vernal) expressed concern about the number of signatures needed to get on a party's county election primary ballot. If a petition is signed by at least two percent of the registered political party's members, that candidate gets a spot on the primary ballot. In small counties, he said that could mean that a small house gathering could garner enough signatures.
If SB54s2 passes, Rep. Brian Greene (R-Pleasant Grove) said, in a matter of years, the caucus/convention system will "shrivel on the vine and die before our very eyes." Greene was an advocate of waiting to see if Count My Vote could gather enough signatures and pass the measure before taking any action in the Legislature.
In the Senate, Sen. Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake City) said the bill is a "way to get around delegates," though he supported it. Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross) was more adamant, saying, "[Count My Vote] is about the will of a few wealthy people to get on the ballot without having to go through the delegates."
McCay said he will stake a significant amount of his pride on whether or not the bill impacts voter participation.
"This [bill] represents an opportunity for a state that is dominated by a single party to reach out to more people. I call on the parties and voters and individuals in this state to hear that siren call," McCay said. "If we look at this two to four years from now and see that participation has not increased, I will feel like a failure."
SB54s2 will now be sent to Gov. Herbert for his signature, though earlier he had declared he may veto the bill. It is unclear whether or not he will do so.